DIXIE — If Tom Sawyer had been raised in the Columbia Basin in a Catholic school, he would have found a kindred spirit in Rick Carnevali, at least judging from the stories found in “When Pigs Fly: The Irreverent Tales of a Bear in the Air.”
His book is a culmination of his growing up and 33 years as a Washington State trooper, during much of which Carnevali served as a pilot flying traffic control, then as a transport pilot flying governors and foreign dignitaries where they needed to go.
“I got looking back and it was kind of a unique career,” said Carnevali, who lives near Dixie with his wife and nine cats.
Rick Carnevali was born in 1949 in Yakima County. Much of his youth was spent working on his family’s farm, messing with machinery or getting in trouble at school according to his new book.
Police work wasn’t Carnevali's first career choice, however. As the grandson of Italian immigrants on both sides of his family, he had strong ties with the Catholic Church.
“Priests were highly respected in those years and I felt becoming one was a pretty lofty goal for a 13-year-old kid,” Carnevali wrote.
It was a goal Carnevali would stick with through college, despite a certain proclivity for getting into trouble.
In an early episode, he reports that in the eighth grade he took a loaded school bus for a joy ride, but only to teach his sleazy bus driver a lesson.
The driver’s girlfriend was a high school student who always sat up front with him on the bus, Carnevali wrote. “While driving that bus full of kids this [expletive] would be kissing and groping her and weaving all over the road.”
One afternoon, Carnevali and other passengers were forced to wait on the bus while the driver and his flame made out on a bench at the bus stop. Carnevali, who was needed at home on the farm, was filled with moral outrage and turned vigilante.
“After several minutes of watching those two enjoy a heavy petting session, I just lost it, jumped in the driver’s seat, and stole the bus ...,” he wrote.
His teen years at St. Peter’s Seminary in Cowiche, a small town north of Yakima, were punctuated by such spiritual activities as short-sheetings and general boarding-school mayhem. College was much the same, according to Carnevali, except the pranks became more elaborate, and a budding dissatisfaction with the Catholic church started.
Ultimately, Carnevali's doubts about becoming a priest and his love of fast machines intersected. It came when was visiting a friend whose father was a Washington State trooper and regaled Carnevali with stories and photos of life as a patrolman.
“When I started my senior year at St. Thomas, I was slightly conflicted about my future life of public service: life as a parish priest versus life as a highway patrolman,” Carnevali wrote. “I have to say the latter sounded a helluva lot more exciting!”
After graduating from seminary with a bachelor’s degree in history, he applied to the Washington State Patrol. His next 33 years were spent working in law enforcement.
“The only reason I wrote this (book) is I saw so much funny stuff that still cracks me up,” Carnevali said in an interview.
He started out as a regular patrol officer, a period marked with long hours dealing with a host of problems. In the late 1970s he made up his mind to join the aviation division of the Washington State Patrol after being sent to find a pair of pilots to notify them of a schedule change. After not finding the pilots in their hotel room or the bar, he checked the pool.
“Sure enough, there they were sunning themselves ... and each had a fresh gin and tonic by their side,” Carnevali wrote. “That image of them lounging by the pool never left my mind, and served as my continual stimulus to become a pilot.”
It wouldn’t be quite that easy, however, and Carnevali chronicles a tough couple of years of trying to obtain his pilot’s license on his own. Even after he finally moved into flying for the WSP, difficulties arose.
While searching for a marijuana grow near the Canadian border, for example, his spotter had an emergency.
“He was able to keep it all in the bag O.K., but his vomiting was accompanied by the most God-Awful ralphing and retching noises I will ever hear on this planet,” Carnevali wrote.
After five years as a patrol pilot, he was promoted to flying transport missions in Olympia in 1990. For the next 14 years he transported state governors, foreign dignitaries and human remains across the country.
Even during this lofty phase of his career, Carnevali didn’t lose his love of a good gag. Like the time he was flying one of his academy instructors just before the instructor’s retirement.
“He was a real funny guy and during our academy class did a great impersonation of a Nazi drill sergeant from time to time,” Carnevali wrote. His revenge included a wild ride in a near-death tour of the Mount St. Helens crater.
Carnevali retired in 2004 and once again became “another [expletive] violator,” an expression one of his fellow officers used to describe him on his last day of work.
“I enjoyed (my career), it was great fun,” he said. “But is was time for a change.
After spending a couple of years rebuilding a dream motorcycle, Carnevali began to write “When Pigs Fly,” which can be found at online booksellers.
“I don’t think this is something anyone has written about,” Carnevali said. “The more I wrote, the more I remembered. I tried to leave out some of the grisly stuff.”
Luke Hegdal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8326.